Posts Tagged ‘Armed Forces’

Book on Pioneering Victorian Explorer of Abyssinia, Sudan and Egypt Manfield Parkyns

January 6, 2023

Duncan Cumming, The Gentleman Savage: The Life of Mansfield Parkyns 1823-1894 (London: Century Hutchinson 1987).

I’ve been meaning to put up something about this book for a little while now, as I thought it might be of interest to any readers with an interest in Victorian travellers and explorers and their accounts of east Africa. I bought it from one of the remaindered bookshops decades ago now, and can’t remember much about it except that Parkyns was a member of the British gentry, who left Britain to explore the Middle East. He travelled from Egypt down to Ethiopia, where he learned the indigenous people’s languages and adopted their dress and culture, becoming a warrior in the Ethiopian army. He married a local woman and had a son by her, Johannes, before returning to England. Later on the son travelled to Europe in search of his father.

The blurb for the book runs

‘Mansfield Parkyns came from a landed gentry background in the East Midlands. As a young man he was sent down from Cambridge and decided to leave England for the excitement of travel in Egypt and Abyssinia, where he intended to discover the source of the White Nile.

His especially gift as a traveller was his ability to immerse himself in local life, which left him to abandon his western clothes and outlook, and to make, as Lady Palmerston put it, ‘the most successful attempt by a man to reduce himself to the savage state on record.’ Unlike many other Victorians he did not believe in the innate superiority of the white man and he therefore took a refreshing view of his surroundings which led to many fascinating observations. He became part of a village community, married a local girl and took part in raids on other villages. He travelled by a route no European had previously taken to Khartoum and then tried to cross Africa to the Atlantic, but was thwarted by civil war.’

Parkyns’ Ethiopian son, Johannes.

His respect for Ethiopian culture did not mean that he was entirely uncritical. He was shocked by what he saw as the abysmal state of the Ethiopian Coptic church, which I think he felt ought to be destroyed and replaced with something better. As for his adoption of Ethiopian dress and culture, this resulted in people singing ‘The King of the Cannibal Islands’ in mockery of him, which shows the racism in Victorian society. And I would have liked to know much more about his son’s journey to Britain to meet him, and what he thought of us.

Governor of California Discussing Paying Reparations for Slavery

January 2, 2023

Last week Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, proposed that the state should pay reparations for slavery. This would consist in a payment of $220,000 to Black Californians descended from slaves. Newsom had previous passed or proposed legislation for the payment of a monthly amount to homeless trans people for a fixed term of one year. This was because there was a disproportionate number of trans people living on the streets, and the payment was to allow them to begin to purchase or rent a home. Newsom’s proposal to pay reparations for slavery was discussed by the Lotus Eaters over here and there’s a video by Black Conservative Perspective in America criticising it. The Black Conservative was not impressed, calling it divisive and playing a clip of Black speakers before the California state legislature or whatever demanding more. One man wanted the payment to be in a fixed amount of gold for each enslaved ancestor. An angry man wearing the red fez and tie of the Nation of Islam ranted about how God had a particular hatred of America and if the money wasn’t paid, He’d destroy the country with an asteroid or something. The Black Conservative considered that these payments would be inflationary, that the money would go on cars and cocaine, and that it would never be enough. People would always come back asking for more.

These are legitimate criticisms. Simon Webb, of History Debunked, made a video attacking the reparations for slavery campaign a few months or so ago. He also thought that it would cause racial divisions rather than solve them, and illustrated it with this example. Say there were two people living next to each other, in identical houses and with the same amount of wealth, but one was Black and the other White. If the Black man received £40,000 simply as compensation for his ancestors being enslaved but not for anything he personally had done, it would cause the White man to become resentful. It might not be true everywhere and of every White person – some may well share the opinion that it’s right Blacks descended from slaves should receive reparations for the suffering of their ancestors. But many others may well become extremely resentful. It could easily result in insults, abuse and worse. When Bristol city council passed a motion a year ago calling for the payment of reparations, Deputy Mayor and head of Equalities Asher Craig received an enormous amount of abusive messages.

I’m also sure that the Black Conservative also has a point about some of the prospective recipients squandering the money. I don’t doubt that some Blacks would use the money wisely to improve conditions for themselves and their children. But I can also see others wasting the money on expensive luxuries, like top of the range cars. There have been a number of stories in the past about people who’ve won millions on the National Lottery and who’ve then spent it all with nothing to show for it so that they’re back as poor as before. This has been done by people regardless of race, White and Black alike. I am also afraid that if these sums were paid, the gangster element in the Black community would use it to expand their violence and drug dealing, as criminals of any colour would if suddenly given a massive cash boost. Perhaps some would use it to leave the gangs and crime behind and try and establish themselves as respectable, law-abiding citizens. You’d hope so. But I think rather more criminals would simply use it to finance more of their destructive lifestyle, which would cause further damage to the Black community. And I am also afraid that whatever was paid would never be enough, and that they would always come back for more.

Thomas Sowell in one of his books argued against slavery reparations. He felt that the people, who were victimised and responsible for it are now dead, and so beyond our ability to help or punish. He also argued that whatever profits America had made from slavery had vanished in the bloodbath of the American Civil War. Furthermore, the guilt for something as terrible as slavery could not be absolved simply by paying money. He also made the point that no society could survive a moral viewpoint in which it had to be constantly criticising itself and paying compensation for the acts of the past. I think these are excellent points.

When Bristol passed its motion calling for reparations, the practical measures made it seem more like a call for further affirmative action for the Black British community as a whole justified through the connection to slavery. The motion ruled out payments to individuals. Instead they should be paid to Black-led organisations which would work to improve conditions and create sustainable, prosperous Black communities. All Blacks were to benefit from this, not just those of Afro-Caribbean or slave origin. While it’s better than Newsom’s proposal in providing for their real, collective benefit of the Black community rather than just the compensation of individuals, there are real moral problems with this as well. By including all Black, it also makes the British state morally responsible for people we did not enslave and who may themselves be descendants of the very slavers who sold their human cargo to us. It also ignores the fact that other nations, like the Arabs and Indians, were also involved in the African slave trade and the fact that White Europeans, including Brits, were also the victims of enslavement in the Turkish conquest of the Balkans and the Barbary pirates. I sent email messages to Craig and Cleo Lake, the Green councillor who proposed the motion, but got no reply. This, in my opinion, shows their absolute contempt for those challenging the notion.

In the British context, it could be argued that any profits Britain acquired from the slave trade were spent on our efforts to stamp it out through the activities of the British West African squadron and its patrols as well as a wider campaign against slaving and slavery during the Empire. There is also the problem that some of the countries responsible for kidnapping slaves also want reparations paid to them, even though some of their chiefs became extremely rich from the trade’s profits. The Caribbean nations, or some of them, have also demanded reparations. Some of this has been to deflect attention from the failings of their own rulers, while I don’t doubt that the venal kleptocrats are looking at a source of further money they can steal and loot. There’s also a question of the amount paid. Britain paid £20 million in compensation to the slaveowners at abolition, something that has been bitterly resented by some Black activists, just as it was by some abolitionists at the time. This translates into billions in today’s money and we only stopped paying it off a few years ago. If we were to pay a commensurate amount today, I think it would bankrupt us. And I can’t see that being to anyone’s benefit in Britain.

So far I think Newsom is on his own on this issue, and it remains to be seen whether he goes ahead with it. But this could be one issue to watch, as it’s possible other states will take it up, as well as activists over here.

Black Zimbabweans Condemning Mugabe’s Ethnic Cleansing of White Farmers

December 29, 2022

I found this striking photo while looking for information on Google on Zimbabwe’s White farmers. They were brutally expelled nearly twenty years ago by the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was a thug, who had previously butchered and brutalised the Ndebele people, as well as his Black political rivals and opponents. I gather that there had been some kind of scheme to hand over the White-owned farms to Black Zimbabweans with money paid by the British government. Mugabe claimed that the money had not been paid, and sent in the army and his supporters to occupy them and expel the Whites. This was accompanied by murder and savage beatings, and I can remember being shocked by the images I saw on the BBC. Mugabe’s followers could no more run commercial farms than they could the rest of the economy. The result was that a formerly prosperous country that had been the breadbasket of Africa suffered massive, crippling inflation and starvation. Many of its people fled to South Africa. Meanwhile, Nigeria offered to provide land and sanctuary to the White farmers.

I gather that the situation has now been reversed, with Zimbabwe inviting the farmers back with promises of compensation. I found the photo particularly interesting, as the slogan says ‘Mugabe Killed Our White Farmers’. It shows that Mugabe’s ethnic cleansing has been condemned by at least a section of Zimbabwe’s Black population. A hopeful sign of racial reconciliation and solidarity amongst all Zimbabweans, regardless of colour.

What If Santa Upgraded His Sleigh for a State of the Art Stealth Plane?

December 24, 2022

As it’s the Christmas season I’m planning to leaven the serious stuff on this channel with more fun material just to spread a bit more cheer around in this new Winter of Discontent. And here’s a jolly bit of fun I found on the ‘Found and Explained’ YouTube channel. It discusses what would possibly result if Santa Claus upgraded his sleigh, which is more fitted to a time before modern technology when horse-drawn carriages and sleighs were the only or main vehicles available. This was all right until the story went global and its credibility was challenged by the problem of travelling around the world, including crossing the Atlantic to North America. Hence the need to upgrade to something more modern.

The video notes the apparent similarities between the supernatural qualities of Santa’s sleigh and UFOs. However, it doesn’t actually talk about using UFO technology, which in the UFO legend is available through back engineering crashed alien space craft. No, the video instead discusses how Santa would swap his sleigh for a state of the art stealth aircraft manufactured by Lockheed at their skunkworks, but incorporating other features from autonomous drones.

Santa’s new ‘sleigh’ would be a high-performance White Star aircraft, utilising pulse jet powered by nuclear energy to achieve speeds of Mach 10 to Mach 15. There would be no windows, and instead the crew would see out using technology that turned much of the cabin into viewscreens. Santa would not be able to deliver the presents personally, except in some circumstances where the consumption of mince pies is concerned, and so would deliver his presents using drones. When he was required to make a personal appearance, the craft would use the autopilot system from another, autonomous drone. Rudolf would not be able to survive the stresses he’d experience at the front of such a high velocity vehicle, and so on the nose of the aircraft himself would be a navigation system using information from satellite position systems.

The video acknowledges that there are problems with this design. Extra space would be needed for all the presents, drones, nuclear fuel and so on. This would be solved using the technology of Santa’s bag, which like the Bag of Holding in D & D games, has ample space to contain everything required.

Expense is also a problem, even given the vast wealth Santa must have to employ his army of elves on holiday pay, plus writing it all off as charity expenses. The video suggests that this could be solved by donating one or two White Stars to the American air force, where they could be reconverted to military aircraft complete with nuclear-tipped warheads. These could also be used against naughty children. And here the video shows the Grinch being fought with explosions.

It’s a bit of seasonal fun from the channel and obviously not meant to be taken seriously. I hope you enjoy it.

Shock! Horror! Patriotic YouTuber Paz49 in Favour of Nationalising Energy Companies

December 16, 2022

Here’s a turn up for the books! Paz49 is a former squaddie and I think he may also have been a prison warder. He’s a patriotic, true-blue Tory who begins his videos with ‘Hello lefties’ and then begins to make it very plain that he thinks everyone on the left is well-below him in intelligence. He got a bit shirty with me a year or so ago for a piece I put up criticising him for applauding the ultimatum sent by a group of French officers and soldiers. This declared that they would take to the streets and fight unless the French government took a harder stand against Islam. This sounded to very many people like the threat of a far-right coup or civil war. Paz endorsed it, and then got angry when I described him as ‘far right’, which he took to mean ‘fascist’. Well, it can mean fascist. But equally it also means parties or organisations to the right of the Tories, of which the fascists are only one out of a number. UKIP were far right, in the sense that they were more extreme than the Tories, but they were national populist rather than fascist.

But it seems there is one left-wing policy Paz is prepared to support. He posted a poll asking his readers if they would support the nationalisation of the energy companies. He did, because they had got too greedy. I did the poll, voting yes, and it appears that over 70 per cent of his respondents did the same.

Which bears out the findings of organisations like We Own It that the renationalisation of the energy companies and public utilities in general is popular with people across the political spectrum.

It’s just the Tory government that doesn’t like it.

Violent Trans Rights Activism and Nazi Transvestism

December 6, 2022

Before I go further, this post is very definitely not aimed at trans people in general. As I’ve said many times on previous occasions, I condemn persecution against people because of their sexuality or gender expression. I don’t doubt that most ordinary trans people just want to get on with their lives in peace. And I am acutely aware of the danger of stirring up prejudice and hatred against sexual minorities. This post is not against them, but against the militant and violent trans rights activists, many of whom aren’t trans, who hurl accusations of fascism against gender critical feminists and their supporters and threaten violence.

Unfortunately, there have been numerous violent and threatening incidents by trans activists. There have been incidents in Spain where feminist protesters have been assaulted and knocked to the ground. This also happened in Britain to Maria MacLachlan of the Peak Trans blog, who was then prosecuted by her attacker for hate speech. The veteran gay rights activist Fred Sargeant was also assaulted and knocked to the ground because of gender critical banners he was carrying at a Pride march in America. A feminist demonstration in Spain was met with such menacing opposition by trans activists that the police ordered the women to go home as they could not protect them. There have also been ugly scenes at Kelly-Jay Keen’s rallies in Britain, including Manchester, where a woman was pushed over a low wall, Bristol and Brighton. At that event, trans activists let off smoke bombs, accused an innocent father of being a fascist and raising a baby fascist, and one was arrested with a bag of 12 knives. Katherine Holdstock, a gender critical feminist, was threatened at her university with a baying mob throwing smoke bombs around.

Many trans activists really do believe that ‘TERFs’ are fascists. I’ve reblogged a video from Peak Trans, in which she discusses this assertion and utterly refutes. No gender critical feminist, as far as I am aware, has ever recommended persecuting trans people, putting them into concentration camps or murdering and experimenting on them like the Nazis did to gay men and women, some of whom would probably today be considered trans, during the Third Reich. But still the accusation keeps being made. MacLachlan filmed her trip to Bristol to hear K-J K speak. At one instant, just as she was leaving, there was a young man solemnly telling the crowd that TERFs were fascists and that their Nazi persecution would start with trans people before being expanded to cover gays and other despised minorities. And yesterday the accusation surfaced once again that gender critical feminists were part of the far right.

It’s a dangerous assertion for trans activists to use. Not just because it’s wrong, but also because it can very easily be turned around against them. They are the people preaching violence and intolerance against their enemies, who refuse even to let their arguments be heard because somehow this makes them unsafe and constitutes violence. But also, because, historically, there was a very strong element of homosexuality and crossdressing within the Nazi party, despite the horrific persecution of gays. The German historian Ludwig Theweleit described this back in the 1980s or so in his book Male Fantasies. This includes passages on events such as the transvestite dances held by the German navy at their base in Kiel. And in 2018 Martin Dammann, another German historian, published a book Soldiers Studies: Crossdressing in the Wehrmacht, which discussed this peculiar phenomenon. The Daily Mail published a review of the book by Sarah Malm ‘His and Herrs: Photos reveal how cross-dressing Nazis loved to wear women’s clothes for fun during World War Two‘ in the 6th November 2018 edition. This began

Photographs show soldiers in the German Nazi Army dressing in women’s clothing

Some snaps show them putting on cross-dressing shows for each other while on the front line

Others see them mucking about in women’s underwear, and in some cases also make-up

A series of fascinating photographs showing how German Nazi soldiers would dress up in women’s clothing and put on cross-dressing shows on the front line, has been compiled in a new book.

Artist Martin Dammann had intended to research soldiers’ lives in the Third Reich, and ended up stumbling across a surprising number of amateur photographs of Nazi conscripts dressed as women.

They show Nazi soldiers in everything from bras and dresses to home-made crop-tops and skirts created from blankets. 

Cross dressing during times of war was not isolated to the German Nazis, and notably also took place during World War I. 

It is thought it served as a way to lighten the mood of soldier life, and to provide entertainment to tired and bored soldiers, a large majority of them heterosexual men starved of female company.’

The article was also illustrated by photos like the one below:

 

See: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6357677/Photographs-line-German-Nazi-soldiers-dressing-womens-clothing.html

For Brits of a certain age, it’s all very like some of the weird antics of Herr Flick, Von Schmalhausen and Lt. Gruber of the German army in the long-running BBC comedy series ‘Allo, ‘Allo. One of the photos in the article even shows a group of soldiers with their little tank.

The trans militants also resemble fascists in other ways. There’s the superficial one of dress. They dress in ‘black bloc’, which has traditionally been the colour of fascism since the days of Mussolini and the black shirts. Their refusal to debate with their opponents and use of threats and violence instead follows the Futurist dictum that they supported ‘the punch, the slap, as the decisive argument.’ And the particular hostility directed to gender critical women recalls the Futurists’ advocacy of ‘scorn for woman’ in Marinetti’s Founding and Manifesto of the movement. This is very far from the attitude at a transvestite convention in Weston-Super-Mare during the 1980s. That event was covered in the Bristol Evening Post. At least of the attendees said that many men had terrible attitudes to women, which showed their sympathy and solidarity with the opposite sex.

Violence and intolerance from whatever quarter needs to be condemned. We need honest, reasonable debate, not shrill and baseless accusations. And fascistic behaviour can also come from trans activists, claiming to defend persecuted sexual minorities. This has to be condemned along with other forms of hatred and intolerance.

For further information, the Amazon page for the book is at: https://www.amazon.com/Soldier-Studies-Cross-Dressing-Martin-Damman/dp/3775744835

Video on Orion, the US Navy’s Nuclear Space Battleship

December 4, 2022

I found this very interesting video on the Found and Explained channel on YouTube. It’s about Orion, a massive space battleship designed, but fortunately never built, by the US navy. The vehicle would have been propelled by nuclear bombs thrown out from the rear of the spacecraft. The force of the explosion would have been caught by a buffer plate on four retracting struts. This would have absorbed the shock, while allowing the spacecraft to move at immense speeds. The ship would have had a complement of 120 men, who would have rested and worked, at least at times, in a centrifuge that would have generated artificial gravity. It would also have carried four shuttle craft, and an arsenal of 140 nuclear bombs. It would also have carried another type of nuclear bomb, the details of which are still classified. This would have been thrown out of the spacecraft and when it exploded would have released a deadly beam of charged particles at its target. It would also have been equipped with a number of conventional naval cannons. I think the intention was to dominate the Earth militarily from space. The navy also planned a number of peaceful missions, including expeditions to Saturn by the 1970s. They didn’t work out any detailed plans but created a detailed model which they showed to Kennedy to persuade him to back the project. It had the opposite effect. Kennedy realised that it would have made the Cold War much worse, and wisely cancelled it.

The video’s sponsored by a Star Trek computer game, and so there’s much comparison between the USS Enterprise and other ships in that series with the Orion battleship. It also goes into the methods by which the spacecraft could be used to become a real starship enabling humanity to reach Alpha Centauri. With its conventional nuclear fuel, it could attain 3.3 per cent of the speed of light, which would enable humanity to reach Alpha Centauri in 144 years. But other techniques could be used, including matter-antimatter annihilation. This could propel the ship to 80 per cent of the speed of light, cutting the journey time to a decade or so. Unfortunately, anti-matter is immensely expensive and so unless or until a cheap method of mass producing it is found, that means of propulsion is impossible.

Sagan mentions the Orion spacecraft in Cosmos, and how it could have taken humanity to the stars. He doesn’t mention, however, the fact that it was intended as a warship. Either he didn’t know, which is unlikely, or that aspect of the ship’s design was classified at the time, and he wasn’t at liberty to divulge it. However, the use of bombs to push a spacecraft forward is actually a sound one. It was tested experimentally on a scale model, and there are clips of this about. The idea goes back to before the Russian Revolution, when an imprisoned revolutionary sketched a platform taking off from the ground propelled by exploding gunpowder bombs beneath it.

Nuclear explosions in space are currently banned under international law, which has helped to prevent atomic war but means that so far only chemical rockets can be used for space exploration. The Beeb a while ago made a science fiction programme about humans exploring the solar system in a nuclear rocket and confidently predicted that, although now fiction, this would actually happen sometime in this century. I’m also struck about how closely the spacecraft resembles the Discovery, the spacecraft that travels to meet the alien monolith around Jupiter in Kubrick’s 2001. That was also nuclear propelled, and its crew also lived in a giant centrifuge to simulate gravity.

I also wonder if JFK cancelled the project for financial as well as geopolitical reasons. Such as spacecraft would have been massively expensive. As it was, the Moon programme absorbed 5 per cent of America’s GDP, and that was for conventional, chemical rockets carrying no more than three men. I can see the construction of a spacecraft like Orion practically bankrupting the entire country, just as trying to keep up with Reagan’s wretched Star Wars programme did the Soviet Union. Scientists have estimated that the technology isn’t necessarily the problem with building spacecraft to other stars. We can almost do it now. It’s just the expense. It’ll be about 200 years before the world can afford to build such spacecraft.

One day a ship like Orion may be built to take us to Alpha Centauri and beyond. But hopefully, not as a warship.

Sketch of American Astronomer, Space Scientist and Activist Carl Sagan

December 3, 2022

I’ve put up this sketch of Carl Sagan began he was one of the major figures in space research as well as a committed Humanist and political activist. He was also a major populariser of astronomy and science, most notably through his blockbusting TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. This was also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, who also composed the music for Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. According to the blurb on Cosmos’ back cover, Sagan was

‘(t)he director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and for Distinguished Public Service, and the international astronautics prize, the Prix Galabert. He has served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as chairman of the astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union. For twelve years, he was Editor-in-Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. In addition to 400 published scientific and popular articles, Dr. Sagan (was) the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Cosmic Connection, The Dragons of Eden, Murmurs of Earth and Broca’s Brain. In 1975 he received the Joseph Priestly Award “for distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind,” and in 1978 the Pulitzer Prize for literature.’

It was Sagan who suggested that Black Holes could be used as interstellar subways so that spaceships from one part of the universe could use them to travel faster than light to another part of the cosmos connected by the wormhole passing between the Black Hole and its White Hole. He also suggested that Venus could be terraformed into a living, habitable world through the introduction of genetically engineered bacteria that would consume its toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen. He also noted that Mars had a large instability in its rotation, and that this could have resulted in its current, millions-year long period of lifelessness. But it was possible that in time its rotation would return to a more hospitable position and the planet would once more bloom into life. He was also a staunch advocate of the view that the universe was inhabited by intelligent alien civilisations and that one day we would contact them. He also wrote a later book, Pale Blue Dot, after the view of the Earth from space.

He was also a fierce opponent of what he considered to be superstition. He was one of the founders of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal along with the stage magician James Randi. They were formed in response to the publication of Gauqelin’s research suggesting there really was a link between the star sign under which people were born and their later careers. He was alarmed by the rise of Creationism and the New Age, and expressed his fears about them in his book, The Demon Haunted World. He was afraid that this would lead to a new Dark Age in which people would wake up every morning to anxiously look through their horoscopes.

He was also greatly concerned with the environment and global warming and the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s he also proposed the idea of nuclear winter. This was the idea that a nuclear war would send millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and causing temperatures to plunge. This has since been rejected by scientists, but I have seen it suggested as one of the causes for the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case it was the dust thrown up by the asteroid’s impact 65 million years ago that blocked out the sun’s light, after the initial holocaust caused by its impact.

During the inquiry following the Challenger disaster, Sagan claimed that it had occurred because the Shuttle was poorly designed, the result of a compromise between NASA and the military. The Shuttle was originally intended to be fully reusable and smaller. However, the armed forces insisted on it becoming larger so that it could carry military satellites into space. The result was that it was larger, and only partially reusable as it required an external tank to carry the extra fuel it needed to reach orbit. This was jettisoned after its fuel was consumed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

He also wrote the SF novel, Contact, later filmed with Jodie Foster playing the lead. This was about a female astronomer, who makes contact radio contact with aliens, a method Sagan himself strongly advocated. Following their instructions, she constructs an artificial wormhole portal that transports her across space so she can finally meet them. I remember coming across the book in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones in the 1980s and was rather put off by its blurb. This boasted about it challenging and refuting racism, sexism and so on. All good stuff, of course, but a bit too PC for me.

Many of these themes appear in Cosmos. This was his personal view of the history of science, and while I loved it at the time, I have serious issues with some of the claims now. One of the problems is that he accepts what we were all told at school, that the Greek philosophers were scientists. He believed that if Greek science had progressed, we would have had space travel by now. The ancient Greeks were certainly responsible for laying the foundations of western science, but they were not quite scientists in the modern sense. They used deduction rather than the scientific method of induction. Deduction meant that they observed a phenomenon and then invented an explanation. In induction, devised by Francis Bacon in the 16th/17th century, the scientist observes a phenomenon, comes up with an explanation, and then devises an experiment to disprove it. If the explanation passes the test, it is tentatively accepted as true until a later observation or experiment disproves it. The ancient Greeks didn’t do much practical experimentation.

Sagan also followed the popular explanation of the evolution of the brain, in which there is a lower, animal brain with the higher faculties evolving later, so there’s a primitive reptile brain and a more advanced mammal brain. But Victorian scientists found that both types of brain structure were present in the earliest, most primitive animals. He also followed the standard, accepted narrative that the Roman Catholic church had suppressed scientific knowledge and experimentation during the Middle Ages. This has since been rejected by historians of science. To many such historians now, the Middle Ages after the 8/9th centuries were an age of innovation and discovery. Jean Gimpel’s book proposing the idea was called The Medieval Machine, after the invention of the clock, to symbolise the period’s belief in a universe governed by law, discoverable by human reason under the light of the divine. And rather than the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance leading to a new enlightened, rational order, it had the potential to do the opposite. The medieval philosophers and theologians were Aristotelians but were very aware of the flaws in Aristotelian science and had modified it over the centuries in order to conform more closely to observed reality. But the Renaissance Humanists would have dumped all this, and so we would have been back to square one with no further scientific advances than what was permitted through a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s thought.

There’s also an anti-Christian element in Cosmos too. He describes how Hypatia, the late Neoplatonist female philosopher was murdered by a group of Christian monks in the 4th century. Hypatia has symbolised for a long time to radical atheists the fundamentally anti-science, and to feminists, the misogyny in Christianity. But by this time Neoplatonism was a mixture of science and mystical speculation, forming what has been called ‘the mind’s road to God’. The real motives for her murder weren’t that she was some kind of pagan threat, but more from a power struggle between the authorities in that part of the Roman world.

Sagan is also critical of western imperialism and describes the horrors the Conquistadors inflicted on the Aztecs and other peoples of the New World. He’s right and this section is clearly a product of its time, with the rise of anti-colonial movements among the world’s indigenous peoples, the Black Civil Rights movement in the US and the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as Reagan’s new Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. But looking at this 40 years later, it’s also one-sided. Europe wasn’t the only expansionist, brutal, imperialist culture. Islam was also militaristic and expansionist, and at the time the Spaniards conquered South America, the Turkish empire was expanding and subjugating parts of Europe, while Muslim pirates were raiding the continent as far as Iceland for slaves.

It’s also dated from an archaeological standpoint. At one point Sagan discusses the Bronze Age collapse of the societies of the Ancient Near East, showing how it was characterised by a series of crises, similar to the process of the fall of other, later civilisations into Dark Ages, but that these aren’t causes in themselves. It’s Systems Analysis, which was popular at the time, but which I think has also become subsequently passe.

All that said, Sagan was right about global warming, whose devastating effects he illustrated with the example of the planet Venus. This has also suffered catastrophic heating due to its greater nearness to the Sun. This released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect so that it is now a hell planet of burning temperatures and sulphuric acid rain. He also wasn’t wrong about the threat of renewed militarism and nuclear war and was a welcome voice against Reagan’s strident belligerence.

As a science populariser, his influence has also been immense. Cosmos was a bestseller, and I think it prepared the way for other bestselling works by astronomers and scientists like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And I certainly was not surprised when Brian Cox, the scientist, not the actor, said in an interview in the Radio Times that he was a massive admirer of Sagan. That came across to me very strongly from his numerous TV series about space and the planets.

Email Calling for the Labour Party to Speak Up for Palestine

December 2, 2022

I got this email from Labour and Palestine asking people to sign their call to the Labour party to speak up for the Palestinians against their continued oppression and dispossession by the Israeli state, in stark contravention of international law. The email runs

Labour Must Speak up for Palestine – add your name!

UPDATED FOR #PALESTINEDAY 2022: Sign here // Share here // Read our article here // Retweet here

“To be an internationalist and democratic socialist party, it is the responsibility of the Labour Party to speak up for Palestine and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their fundamental rights, including to self-determination.

Recent actions by the Israeli Government have illustrated the continuing nature of Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of the rights of Palestinian peoples with the use of militarised violence and forced displacements. The attacks on Gaza in August 2022 killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and were described by the UN Special rapporteur as an act contrary to international law. The Israeli army’s killing of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh; the attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque and the outlawing of 7 NGOs who spoke up for Palestinian rights being just some examples.

The seriousness of the situation facing the people of Palestine is confirmed by the fact the International Criminal Court is holding an inquiry into abuses committed in the occupied Palestinian Territories since 2014.

The continuing de facto annexation of Palestinian land by accelerated settlement building alongside statements of Israel’s continuing intention to proceed with annexation, show it is clearer than ever that the Israeli State is intent on eliminating any prospects of Palestinian self-determination, including by trying to annex Jerusalem as its sole capital.

Major reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have concluded that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid as defined by the UN.

Labour must build on – not step back from – its commitments to immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements as outlined in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, and in the motions overwhelmingly passed by the Party’s annual conferences in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the last  of which stated “that the Labour Party must stand on the right side of history and abide by these resolutions in its policy, communications and political strategy.”

We must support “effective measures” including sanctions, as called for by Palestinian civil society, against actions by the Israeli state that are illegal according to international law. This must include action to ensure that Israel stops the building of settlements, reverses any annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank, ceases the blockade of Gaza, brings down the Wall and respects the right of refugees to return to their homes under international law.

We oppose measures designed to stop civil society using non-violent actions, including ethical investment policies, to try to ensure Israel complies with international law.”

* Sign here // Share here // Read our article here // Retweet here

I’ve signed it, as it is clearly a matter of simply justice to defend the victims of persecution regardless of the state doing it. I fear that it will probably do little good, as Starmer is ‘100 per cent Zionist’ and backs the Israeli state to the hilt, even employing a former Israeli spook to hunt down the emails and social media posts of people he can smear as anti-Semitic. But if you are a member of the Labour party or a Labour supporter and feel the same way about it I do, please consider signing this as well.

Do We Really Need a Special Poppy to Commemorate the Sacrifice of Black Servicepeople?

November 14, 2022

Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday, when the nation officially commemorates the sacrifice of our boys and girls in the armed forces, particularly in the two World Wars. And Simon Webb of History Debunked put up another piece about race. It seems that there is a black Remembrance Day poppy to commemorate the special sacrifice of Black squaddies from the Caribbean and Africa. Webb wondered why it was that Blacks felt they needed to have such a special symbol, while the millions of Asians that also served in the British forces during World War I – he rightly mentioned 3 million Indians – don’t feel the need to have one for themselves.

Let’s have a bit of context here. Until a few years ago, the war memorial in Belgium only commemorated the White troopers. There was rightly a campaign to have the names of all the non-White troops, who also fell, inscribed on the monument. I remember the news reports about it at the time and the interviews on the Beeb. The former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol also did an exhibition about the contribution of the non-White Commonwealth troops. The displays included the war diary of a Muslim Indian soldier, who compared the carnage to the End of the World. There was also an image of a Black serviceman proudly bearing the medal he’d been awarded for his courage. If there was a need for a special poppy to commemorate non-White service during the War, the erection of the memorials to them in Belgium would have been the appropriate moment to do so. And it would have covered all the non-White squaddies who had previously been excluded.

But I got no sense of that from Webb’s video. He just said it had been around for a few years now. I have to say, I haven’t heard of it before, or seen them for sale. Which isn’t surprising, as I’m White. But I do wonder if these poppies are just around in very restricted areas, like the very Black, very anti-racist parts of London.

I have to say I have very strong misgivings about it. It seems once again to come from a mindset that Black people are especially victimised and need their own space and institutions. It seems to be another step on the road to real liberal apartheid. In America some of the universities have special ‘safe spaces’ for Black students and hold specially segregated, Black-only graduation ceremonies. It also seems to come from the fixed mentality that somehow Black lives are seen as intrinsically less by Whites or mainstream society, as otherwise expressed in the Black Lives Matter movement. But I also think this could increase resentment towards Blacks. One of the central elements of anti-Semitism is the perception that Jews’ first loyalty is to themselves and other Jews and have little loyalty to their host societies. This is the underlying assumption that made the ‘Stab in the Back’ myth of Jewish betrayal credible to some Germans after their defeat in the First World War, which formed one of the major pieces of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. Over here there was similar suspicion about the divided loyalties of Jews of German origin and the Anglo-German Jewish businessman, Alfred Mond. A special Black poppy that commemorates only Black servicemen, while certainly not repudiating loyalty to the British Empire, nevertheless could very easily give the impression that they believe the lives of Black servicemen are worthy of particular commemoration over and beyond that of everyone else, and that Blacks are solely concerned with their own people, not wider British society. That’s probably not the intention the people who invented it want to give, but the possibility’s there, nonetheless.